Contrary to what you may have been led to believe based on what has been discussed this past week, the New England Patriots are not playing the Denver Tebows tomorrow. They are in actuality playing the Washington Redskins, so let’s take a look at Sunday’s game. There are plenty of great story lines: Andre Carter vs his old team, Belichick and Shanahan go head-to-head once again, rematch of the game that sparked the ‘run up the score’ discussion in 2007, and plenty more.

 

Before I get to the game itself, there is one very overlooked factor that hopefully will not have an impact on the game. FedEx Field will be used for a football game for the second time in 24 hours when the Pats play the Redskins. How will the surface hold up? The last time a college game was held there (November 12), there was no game the next day yet the following week the field was in poor shape the following week against Dallas. And does anybody need a reminder about how bad Pittsburgh’s field has been when they host non-NFL games late in the year? Or for a more local comparison, what Foxboro used to look like after a soccer game?

Pats fans remember all too well what happened on a sloppy field in the last week of the 2009 season in Houston. I just hope nothing similar happens to players on either side tomorrow.

 

9-3 New England Patriots at 4-8 Washington Redskins

Pats Offense vs Redskins Defense
Points Per Game: Pats 30.2 (3rd); Skins 21.3 (15th)
- Last 3 Games: Pats 34.3 (2nd); Skins 26.0 (24th)
Red Zone (TD): Pats 66.0% (3rd); Skins 42.1 (7th)
- Last 3 Games: Pats 75.0 (4th); Skins 66.7 (T 21)
Turnovers: Pats 15 (T 6th); Skins 15 (T 23rd)

Redskins Offense vs Pats Defense
Points Per Game: Skins 16.8 (27th); Pats 20.6 (13th)
- Last 3 Games: Skins 22.0 (T 15th); Pats 15.7 (7th)
Red Zone: Skins 44.4 (T 25th); Pats 51.0 (16th)
- Last 3 Games: Skins 55.6 (11th); Pats 44.4 (T 12th)
Turnovers: Skins 28 (31st); Pats 23 (T 4th)

 

One thing I like to do before a game is to take a look at what fans and media of the opponent are saying; it brings a fresh perspective that adds a little something to what the local writers offer – plus they know the opponent far better than even my favorite and most respected Pats writers do.

Here are a few excellent sites to check out if you are so inclined. I’m particularly impressed by both the quantity and quality of local team news from the Post.

Washington Post
Washington Times
Comcast SportsNet Washington
Extreme Skins
The Hogs
Hail Redskins
Hogs Haven

 

Mike Shanahan set to face friend, rival Bill Belichick

“Bill and I go back a long time as assistant coaches, as coordinators. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him,” Shanahan said. “We’ve talked through the years as friends, as assistant coaches, coordinators, head coaches. They asked me a long time ago — it was kind of funny after the Cleveland situation — they asked me who I thought the best coaches were in the NFL. He had just gotten fired and I said, ‘Bill Belichick,’ and everybody laughed at that time, but nobody is laughing anymore. You know when there’s a good football coach and I’ve always known that Bill’s been a great football coach. . . . He’s a student of the game, extremely bright. It’s always fun to go against him.”

During Shanahan’s time in Denver, he and Belichick met seven times. Shanahan’s Broncos beat Belichick’s Patriots five times, with the last victory coming in the 2005 divisional playoffs.

“I’ve always had tremendous respect for Mike and what he’s done on the offensive side of the ball as a coordinator and his accomplishments as a head coach,” Belichick said in a conference call with D.C. media members on Wednesday. “I always felt like his teams were amongst the hardest to prepare for and to handle their game plans. He does a great job of that, as I can see with the Redskins now.”

During the 2009 season — when Shanahan was out of football after getting fired by Denver in 2008 — the coach spent three practices at the Patriots’ complex to observe how Belichick ran his team. The two also have spent time picking each other’s brains in the offseasons.

“I think we’ve watched each other through the years,” Shanahan said. “We know what type of people that we try to get on our football team, what’s your makeup going to be and so I’ve watched him through the years. I know that he’s watched me. It’s been fun to talk about over a couple beers or dinner, something like that. … I always try to steal things from people who are doing good.”

 

Home field disadvantage? The Redskins have lost ten of their last twelve games. To get an idea of how bad that is, they’ve only done worse (i.e., lost eleven of twelve home games) just once since John F Kennedy was alive.

 

A few more trivia tidbits, courtesy of Gary Marbry from WEEI:

  • The Redskins’ offense has been flagged for the most delay of game yards (35) and intentional grounding yards (44) in the league this season.
  • Washington has not led at the end of the first quarter in any of their last 13 home games. Also, the ‘Skins were outscored 21-6 in the fourth quarter last week, the 15-point negative margin was their worst fourth quarter at home since 2003 (66 home games). Considering how the Pats have started and finished, that has to be considered some very good news.
  • Every team in the league has at least two touchdown passes of 20 or more yards this season… except the Redskins (1). They had seven such TD passes last season and three in 2009. The Patriots have thrown 28 touchdown passes of 20+ yards during that same three-year span.
  • The Redskins are averaging just four rushing first downs per game, which is last in the league. In this category the Redskins have ranked 30th in 2009, 31st in 2011, and now 32nd in 2012. Nowhere to go but up now!

 

Andre Carter returns to Washington and could be in for a big day against his former team. Starting LT Trent Williams was suspended by the league for the final four games of the season for violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. In his place the Redskins will go with either veteran Sean Locklear or undrafted rookie Willie Smith; Carter should be able to feast on either one. And as far as getting some help on Carter goes, the Redskins’ starting tight end Fred Davis was also suspended for violating the drug policy. Should Washington focus on defending against Carter that will open things up for pressure up the middle from Vince Wilfork (who is usually double-teamed himself, and Kyle Love; Mark Anderson could also benefit with pressure from the opposite side.

At least one member of the Washington media was rather complimentary of Carter, noting that he had an amicable parting of the ways when he left town.

Although Carter kept a positive attitude throughout the failed attempt to turn him into a standup outside linebacker in the 3-4, he could not have been enjoying himself. That has changed.

“It’s fun, man. This is something I’ve done for a long period of time,” Carter said of playing as a 4-3 end. “Just for Coach Belichick and the Patriots organization to take the chance on me to go out there and just try my best to be productive or just to try my best to play a great game with great teammates.”

In going to the Patriots, Carter joined a team with a Brady-led offense that can score a lot of points in a hurry. That is in stark contrast to the Redskins teams he played for, which were offensively challenged. But Carter said that he plays the same way regardless of the score.

“Definitely the game can change or the game situation can change when you’re playing ahead or behind, but in general, whatever the score is, you’ve just got to go out there and play your best game, play by play,” he said.

He found it easy to adjust for playing under Belichick after playing a year with Mike Shanahan. He said that both coaches make it easy.

“Do your job. Come to work on time. Work hard. Study your film. Know your plays. Go home, rest up, and do it all over again. Those are pretty much the simple answers to stay out of trouble. That’s pretty much it.”

 

The ability to get pressure on Rex Grossman is key for the Patriots; a good pass rush can mask the deficiencies that the Pats have in their patchwork secondary. Santana Moss has returned after missing four games with a hand injury, and Jabar Gaffney would surely love to have a good game against his former team. Grossman is most effective throwing off a play-action pass, so the Redskins need to get Roy Helu untracked. His numbers may not show it but Helu is actually a pretty god running back; the problem is Washinton’s offensive line is subpar opening up holes for him. Stifle the running game and that puts Washington into predictable down-and-distance situations, and that will lead to Grossman throwing a pick or three.

On the other side of the ball I would expect another big day for Rob Gronkowski. Washington’s linebackers are not strong in coverage; players like Oshiomogho Atogwe are much better rushing the QB than they are dropping back. That means they will need help from their safeties, but LaRon Landry is out with a groin injury. The Redskins simply seem to be outmanned against the Pats, and once New England grabs a lead they don’t have the personnel to catch up; look back to how the Eagles tried to match the Patriots offensively and see how that turned out.

 

Don’t care for the local sports talk radio? Check out these audio alternatives:
Colts wrap, Redskins preview – 43:57 from Pats Propaganda and Frenz


Bill Belichick Press Conference, 12/9/2011 – 22:35 of some extremely interesting commentary from Belichick (at least to me) regarding his relationship with Rutgers coach Greg Schiano and other college coaches and their programs; Nickel Defense 101; why guys end up playing defense rather than offense, and some great NFL history discussion. It’s amazing the difference in how watchable and listenable these pressers are when the media asks him some quality questions rather than ones you know he can’t or won’t answer.

Here are some more links to get you ready for the game:

Patriots 3 Keys to Victory – Steve Balestrieri, Pats Pub
My Five Keys To Victory For The Patriots – Russ Goldman, Pats Confidental
Ten New England Patriots Thoughts For Week 14 – Russ Goldman, Pats Confidential
Ten Matchups To Watch Sunday Afternoon – Christopher Price, WEEI
What To Watch For: Patriots vs Redskins – Nick Underhill, Springfield Republican
Redskins unknown, but 0-3 vs AFC East – Jennifer Toland, Worcester Telegram
Five Things To Watch – Ian Rapoport & Karen Guregian, Boston Herald
Redskins-Patriots: Key matchups to watch – Mike Jones, Washington Post
Redkins-Patriots: Five story lines to follow – Mike Jones, Washington Post
Former Redskins defender looking forward to today’s game – AP, via Richmond Times-Dispatch
Things to watch: Patriots-Redskins – Mike Reiss, espnBoston
When will Pats play for 60 minutes? – Tim Weisberg, New Bedford Standard-Times

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